SAP: The Boston Red Sox of CRM

Often overlooked and considered inferior in the past, so close to greatness yet so robbed of it, called focused to the point of being boring, at times rocked with controversy, and when considered seriously, always in a discounted way due to some statistical controversy, the parallels between SAP’s CRM business and the Boston Red Sox are just too strong to ignore. Add in the fact the Red Sox are the World Champions, in part due to acquiring talent, but more by making the team dynamic work, and the allegory is complete. With Oracle’s big news this week, the rivalry between Oracle and SAP in CRM now compares to one of sport’s all-time best rivalries, the New York Yankees versus the Boston Red Sox.

Ellison and Steinbrenner: Separated at Birth?

Oracle’s CEO Larry Ellison and The New York Yankees’ Principal Owner George Steinbrenner are so alike it’s as if they were separated at birth. The Yankees started out the season hoping to buy their way into dominating the American League East, guaranteeing themselves a strong post-season and eventually winning the World Series. Today finds the Yankees fighting very hard to just make the playoffs, much less dominate their division. Meanwhile the Boston Red Sox just keep focused and keep moving, thanks in large part to Red Sox Nation, those passionate fans that keep the momentum moving for their team.

If you ever have the chance, catch these two teams in action at Fenway Park in Boston. If you aren’t a fan of baseball, at the end of the evening you will be, because the essence of baseball lives in Fenway, especially when these two teams square off with each other. It is a very memorable experience to be at Fenway Park and feel first-hand the intensity and passion these teams are capable of generating.

Siebel: CRM’s ‘Big Unit’

So how does all this relate to Siebel being acquired by Oracle and SAP’s quiet but sure dynasty in CRM? Plenty. Oracle acquiring Siebel is like the New York Yankees acquiring Randy Johnson, or for those baseball fans out there, The Big Unit. Randy Johnson is one of the game’s best pitchers, with a World Championship of his own with the Arizona Diamondbacks, five Cy Young Awards, and several major league records to his credit. As a New York Yankee, however, it’s been a tough year for Mr. Johnson. Injuries have plagued him and as a result of this and several other factors, his joining the Yankees hasn’t delivered the intended result. Johnson, in his own right, is on his way to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He’s one of the best pitchers of all time, arguably one of the top in the world at what he does. Yet this year, when he was to be the center of the Yankees pitching corps, has not been what everyone expected. It’s been a disappointment and that’s a point not even the most rabid Yankees fan can argue.

Siebel is to the CRM industry what Randy Johnson is to baseball. A glorious past, some great strengths, yet a questionable but potentially bright future. Just as George Steinbrenner will continue to wield the most powerful checkbook in all of major league baseball, Larry Ellison does the same in enterprise software, this week in CRM.

Winning: So Much to Learn, So Little Time

Think about it. In the recent struggles of the Yankees against their arch rivals, the Red Sox, there are so many allegories of Oracle versus SAP. Here are just a few:

  1. If NetWeaver were a young pitcher, he would be in the running for a Cy Young Award this year. Just for fun one day last weekend, I counted up all the success stories for NetWeaver on the SAP site. There were 96. Then I did a quick tally of their distribution by industry. The analysis showed the majority of success stories came from manufacturing followed high tech, utilities and chemicals. All these areas are strongholds of SAP to begin with, but when you delve deeper into the circumstances of NetWeaver adoption you see lots of R/3 experience first, and second, integration being critical. Love or hate SAP, you can’t argue with the fact that NetWeaver is delivering results as a Service Oriented Architecture.
  2. Partners who have a passion for results. Just as the Yankees have legions of fans (they sell out almost every game on the road they play, no matter where it is), Oracle has legions of partners. SAP on the other hand doesn’t have the same number of partners as Oracle does, but between the two, SAP clearly has the momentum in this area and is proving adept at creating passionate fans of their own in the partner community. When a recent event in San Jose, Calif. was held for SAP Partners, it quickly sold out. Earlier this year, just the sight of the SAP Partners booth at CeBIT was enough proof that the list of SAP’s passionate fans (partners) is growing. The bottom line of all this is that passion does have a huge role in any company being able to execute with its channels, just as any major leaguer will tell you that fans help carry a team through the post-season. It’s the same thing, and SAP’s momentum is noticeable here.
  3. Play me or trade me mentality may set in at Oracle. With so much CRM talent now at Oracle due to the acquisition and Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of rolling out the welcome mat for Siebel employees earlier this week at his company’s Dreamforce ’05 event in San Francisco, you have to wonder how long Siebel’s top talent will be content to sit on the bench. Many Siebel employees I know interview and sell both software and themselves extremely well. The shift of top talent won’t be done until next year, but SAP stands to do very well in picking up top Siebel talent, as they did earlier this year.

Bottom Line: Oracle will have its share of victories in CRM, yet SAP is quietly and solidly building an enterprise CRM dynasty. NetWeaver is already closing more sales than SAP’s competitors would care to admit.

Louis Columbus, a CRM Buyer columnist, is a former senior analyst with AMR Research. He is the author of several books on making the most of analyst relationships, including Best Practices in Analyst Relations, which can be downloaded for free.

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